Interview month

Challenges of Expats – Interview of the month March

In my goal to support expats, I take regular interviews, bringing you true stories.

Being an Expat: Easy or Challenging? How do you become an Expat? What is the reason? Some hope to find a job, some join their partner, others are relocated by their company. Whatever the reason, each person needs to adjust and integrate. You will find challenges as well as excitements in each interview.

Please enjoy the story of Laurent, the Frenchman moving to the Netherlands.

Interview with Laurent Stomboli

French national moving to The Netherlands.


When did you arrive?

Laurent: I arrived in May 2007, I was offered a relevant position within the Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences (Hogeschool van Amsterdam) and I moved my residence in July 2007.

I am a French citizen. When I moved to the Amsterdam metropolitan area, I had been living in Paris for 3 years.”

What was your reason to become an expat in the Netherlands?

Laurent: “I am a self-initiated expatriate and am living with my girlfriend Céline who is 40-years old. Céline has been living in the Netherlands more than 20 years and has both French and Dutch nationalities. She already had a great position in a chemical multinational company here, so it was logical for me to move. “

Was this your first move abroad?

Laurent: ‘’I had study and work experience abroad (Madrid and London) prior I moved to the Netherlands.

But in both previous experiences, the school or my employer had arranged for my living conditions. It was the first time I had to take care of housing, immigration process, energy and telecomm contracts by myself. ‘’

How did you prepare your move?

Laurent: ‘’I had carefully prepared myself an entire semester before my arrival:

Taking  Dutch language classes in Paris, created a list of main administrative actions to take when leaving France, AND a list of the main administrative actions to take on arrival in the Netherlands.

I applied to jobs from Paris, by answering online job postings or directly applying to the institutions. I came to Amsterdam for job interviews a couple of times. And, in May, I was offered a position and signed the work contract for a start in September.

Céline had arranged for me a temporary housing  in an apartment of one of her colleagues who was at the time performing an international assignment in China.

How did you experience your integration period?

Laurent: ‘’Thanks to my preparation and the fact I was holding a work contract, I didn’t face any particular problem with the Dutch administrations: SoFi nummer, belastingdienst, gemeente Haarlem, immigratiedienst. It went well and pretty quickly.

But still, I couldn’t open a bank account nor subscribe a health insurance since I had no address in the Netherlands. It is only mid-August when I settled in my own apartment in Haarlem that I could sort these matters out. Actually, the most annoying matter clearly was the health insurance. First, I wasn’t quite sure I needed one since I was covered by the French social security till the end of 2007 and second, because the insurance offer is pretty extended, unnecessarily complex and never described in another language than Dutch… Not to mention the ridiculous price of such insurance or the absence of major price difference among the supposedly competitors. I just ended-up picking the cheapest one but still feel this whole system is wrong.’’

What was the biggest challenge you encountered from France to The Netherlands?

Laurent: ‘’Most difficulties in those first 6 weeks have been related a “cultural shock” I wasn’t quite expecting due to the limited geographical distance from France and to my previous experiences abroad. And also, I had read several articles on various aspects of the Dutch life. But, perhaps like many Europeans, those readings had constructed a rather outdated and inaccurate image of the Dutch society.

Coming from a country that had just elected Sarkozy, I was quite proud to arrive in a society that was supposedly tolerant about differences in lifestyle, multilingual and open to new ideas, concerned with the wellbeing of all its members. Although some characteristics of this ideal society (at least for me) has proven to be true, I also quickly discovered a society in which a religion could be enough to define an individual or a group of individuals, in which multilingualism could be reduced to just being bilingual, in which care for others would not include courtesy on streets, at shop doors and queues or in public transport.

To be fully honest on this, I must say I am rather ‘’vieux jeu’’ (old fashion) when it comes to manners and, that may explain why I experienced such a bad time in my first weeks. I continue to be amazed by certain traits of Dutch behaviour such as commenting on any matter without the least effort to substantiate one’s opinion, sharing health-related or body functioning-related information or giving advices without having been invited to do so.  However I would be rather embarrassed to provide tips on how to handle such behavioural traits since I still don’t know it myself besides remaining silent or pretending I didn’t get what was said. At least it gives some of us, expats, some “exotic” stories to tell when we go back home.

Rachel’s answer: ‘’Laurent, you may think you are old fashion, but I can confirm that you are not the first one telling me about this Dutch behaviour you described. Of course neither you or me are generalizing to ‘’all Dutch’’ but it seems apparent to others besides you too.’’

Please tell us your Number ONE TIP when coming to The Netherlands.

Laurent:  ‘’ The best tip I can give is to carefully prepare prior moving!!!

More specifically, I mean to “close the work chapter” (being contracted as an employee or an entrepreneur) prior to your arrival.
Nowadays technologies allow to browse for job openings or corporate information as well as to apply remotely. And the need to come over to job interviews is also a great opportunity to stay in the Netherlands for a couple of days and to test one’s emotions. Finally, having been contracted prior arrival largely facilitated access to accommodation and to related services (energy, bank, ICT).

Great, Thank you Laurent for sharing this with us!

Merci, Dank je wel!


Picture: I am ending the day fishing on the peer of a nature camp (a former French military base) located on the island of Marlodj in the delta of the Sine Saloum in Senegal.